Attracting fresh ire, Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) Coordinator Prateek Hajela has come under fire from the ruling and opposition parties for suggesting to the Supreme Court to curtail the number of documents required to prove Assamese identity for the claims and objections process.
The apex court on September 5 had deferred till further orders the commencement of the process of receiving claims and objections for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and sought the Centre's response on the suggestion that any one of the 10 documents can be used by claimants to prove legacy.
A bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman had perused the report of Assam's NRC coordinator and said it was agreeable to his suggestions that any one of the 10 of a total 15 documents provided in List-A of the claim form can be used by the claimants to prove legacy.
Leader of Opposition in Assam Assembly Debabrata Saikia has sought Hajela's removal for suggesting to the apex court to dispense with the 1951 NRC and pre-1971 voters' lists of Assam while dealing with claims and objections relating to omission of over 40 lakh names from the complete draft of the NRC published on July 30.
The Congress leader, in a press release, said the eligibility criteria framed for the NRC by various stakeholders, including the government, had specifically listed the 1951 NRC and pre-1971 voters' lists as the first two among the important documents for the purpose of verification and these were even mentioned in the relevant part of the Rules, 2003.
"It is consequently logical to attribute a malafide motive to Hajela's arbitrary recommendation to drop these two important documents from the verification process," he alleged.
Many people, especially those with economic and educational backwardness, did not anticipate that a day would come when the presence of the names of their ancestors in the 1951 NRC and pre-1971 voters lists would not be sufficient to prove their citizenship, the opposition leader said.
Changing the eligibility criteria at such an advanced stage of the NRC process is against the demands of natural justice, the Congress leader said.
The opposition leader urged all parties involved in the ongoing NRC-related proceedings in the Supreme Court to keep this aspect in view while submitting their views on Hajela's proposal at the next date of hearing.
Congress MLA Kamalakhaya Dey Purkayastha has demanded Hajela's arrest for making this suggestion. "He has gone against the interest of the people. The NRC is not his personal document but for the public, for Assam," he told reporters.
Another opposition party, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), has also opposed Hajela's suggestions with its party general secretary Aminul Islam terming the recommendation as "unethical and biased".
"There seems to be political pressure behind this suggestion. If the 1951 NRC is not accepted, then what is being updated," he asked.
Criticising the NRC state coordinator's suggestion, the general secretary of the state unit of the ruling BJP Dilip Saikia claimed it has complicated the situation at a time when the names of lakhs of Indian Gorkhas, Bengalis, Hindi-speaking people and those from several other communities were left out of the NRC draft.
"In view of this, BJP state chief Ranjit Kumar Dass and other party leaders will discuss with our party national leadership in Delhi about Hajela's role in this matter, inclusion of the missing names of genuine Indian citizens in the complete NRC and the future action to be taken," Saikia said in a press release here Friday.
Hajela had filed the report in compliance with the court's August 28 order and stated that the 10 documents of List-A could be relied upon or introduced afresh by any claimant for his or her claim for inclusion in the NRC, subject to their authenticity as per the certification by the relevant issuing authority.
The ten legacy documents which are admissible include land documents like registered sale deed, permanent residential certificate issued from outside the state, passport and LIC insurance policy of the relevant period.
Voluntary organisation Assam Public Works (APW) president Abhijit Sarma, who had filed the petition in the apex court in 2009 for updation of the NRC, had demanded engagement of a third party to assist in the monitoring of the update process.
The APW president said a third party will give direct feedback from the field to the court, which is monitoring the entire NRC update process, as the officers engaged in verifying the process are not permitted to report the anomalies because they are government officials, Sarma said.
"Unless the third party's assessments are taken into account, it wont be possible to correct the mistakes already committed in the process, Sarma said in a press release. Hajela could not be reached as he has been censured by the Supreme Court for talking to the media. His mandate is only to update the NRC and not brief the press about it, the court had observed.
with PTI inputs